Pens Unable to Seal the Deal in Toronto

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, looking back on last night’s 3-2 overtime loss in Toronto is bittersweet.

“This is the type of game where we did some good things, found ourselves in a position to win,” head coach Dan Bylsma told the media. “With a new group of guys and guys coming back in, we have to figure out how to win these types of games.”

The Pens played a solid game, however.

Forward Tyler Kennedy and defenseman Paul Martin were back on the bench after missing a handful of contests due to injuries, and as they readjusted, new players James Neal, Alex Kovalev, and Matt Niskanen were improving their chemistry with the team.

While all three are beginning to make tangible impacts, Niskanen had a particularly successful night. He scored the Pens’ first goal about seven minutes from the opening faceoff, and logged the sole assist on forward Chris Conner’s goal in the second period.

While the power play was ineffective – they failed to capitalize on their three chances – the penalty kill was top-notch. The Maple Leafs were 0-for-5 with the man advantage.

The Pens’ defense was tight; the Leafs were only able to take a total of 20 shots on goal. Offensively, the effort was there as well, as the Pens applied constant pressure and outshot the Leafs by nine.

They crumbled, however, in the later half of the third period. About five minutes in, Toronto forward Phil Kessel tied the game, giving the Leafs a boost. The Pens, who had just beaten Toronto in a shootout Saturday night, seemed to be looking ahead to overtime rather than focusing on earning a regulation win, causing them to trip and fall off their game.

“We take a bit of a risk and it leads to an opportunity for the to get to the offensive zone, they score the goal, and then a four-on-four situation in overtime – we gave up a great opportunity,” said Bylsma.

“Going into the third period with a 2-1 lead, we need to find ways to be better in those situations and close out that game regardless of whether we get the third goal or not,” he continued.

When overtime arrived, it only took 42 seconds for Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski to get the puck past the error-prone Penguins and into the net for a disappointing defeat.

“Somehow he got left in coverage,” Niskanen told reporter Rob Rossi. “I’ve got to look at the tape to see if it was my guy. It doesn’t really matter. It was a frustrating way to end a pretty good game.”

Martin stressed the importance of following through despite an unstable lineup.

“Maybe there is a little bit of adjustment time,” he told the media, “but nothing that we should be able to use as an excuse not to be able to close games and finish.”

The problem, it seems, is mental. The Penguins, even with so many players on the injured list, have the skill and physical presence to win games, and by wider margins than they have been in recent weeks. What they need to do now stop being distracted by who is in the lineup and instead focus on what they can accomplish as a team.

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